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Chapter Nine The Midnight Duel
(Harry shows up Malfoy on his broomstick, gets recruited for the Gryffindor Quidditch team, gets challenged to a midnight duel by Malfoy, and stumbles in upon a three-headed dog in the forbidden third-floor corridor.)
Harry’s first flying lesson turns into a crash course when Malfoy steals Neville’s Remembrall. Harry flies after the airborne Malfoy, saves Neville’s Remembrall when Malfoy throws it to the ground, and gets caught by Professor McGonagall. But rather than punish Harry, an impressed McGonagall takes Harry to the Gryffindor Quidditch team captain, Oliver Wood. At dinner that night Harry is still happy about being recruited for the team when Malfoy challenges him to a Wizard’s duel. Ron accepts for Harry and that night the two sneak out, only to be accompanied by chance by Hermione and Neville. The four reach the trophy room and realize they’ve been set up: Malfoy never intended to show up at all, but instead told Filch of where they’d be. The four run away from Filch, storming blindly down the corridors until they reach a locked door, which Hermione unlocks. They run into the room to hide from Filch, only to find that the room is occupied by a large, three-headed dog. The four escape from the room and run furiously back to their dorms, where Harry figures out that the three-headed dog was probably guarding whatever Hagrid took out from vault 713.
Ron used to fly on his brother Charlie’s old broom, another example of Ron’s poverty and hand-me-down living. Scabbers is Ron’s most worn-out hand-me-down, a symbol of how poor Ron is.
One can deduce that there are 280 students at Hogwarts based on the fact that the Gryffindors and Slytherins need twenty broomsticks for their joint lesson in flying. If there are ten students in each house for each year, then each year has forty students and so the combined seven grades contain 280 students. These numbers roughly correspond with the number of names the Sorting Hat called out in the previous chapter.
Harry breaks Madam Hooch’s order not to move in order to accomplish the higher good of saving Neville’s Remembrall. This isn’t an epic decision but it touches on a very popular literary theme: the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law. The Ancient Greek play Antigone is a classic example of a piece of literature that incorporates this theme. Harry often breaks school rules, especially by roaming around at night when he’s not supposed to, but he usually has good intentions.
Alohamora, the unlocking spell, combines the Hawaiian word for good-bye (aloha) and a Latin word for hindrance (mora).
The three-headed dog is Hagrid’s, and he’s named it Fluffy. It makes sense that Hagrid got him from a “Greek chap,” as three-headed dogs are from Greek mythology: “Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog of the underworld, stood at the gates. He let the dead souls enter, but, once past his gnashing teeth and spiked tale, they could never go out again.” (D’Aulaires, 56)
“We could all have been killed--or worse, expelled.” At this point in the book, Hermione’s priorities are excessively bookish. Contrast this comment with her later statement at the end of the book when she tells Harry that friendship and bravery are more important than book smarts.